October 17th, 2011

Are You Following All the Rules When Writing Content for Your Websites?

You can read all kinds of rules about what makes for great website content. There are plenty of opinions out there on how long an article or blog post should be, the use of bullet points or lists, paragraph length and so forth. If that’s not your writing style, it can be hard to write in a way that others say is the best way to go. Is it really necessary to follow such rules when you’re writing for your site?

I don’t believe you need to do that. I follow one main rule when I write, which is to keep it interesting and informative. I suppose that could be phrased as two rules, but you get the idea. I don’t stress about article length, paragraph length, bullet points, etc. I’d rather be concerned with presenting the information clearly, in a way I can enjoy writing it, and that will hopefully attract readers.

Let’s take a look at some of these rules.

Rule 1: Write short articles and/or blog posts.

The idea here is that people have short attention spans online, and so you need to be able to make your point quickly, or you lose them. I firmly disagree with this one.

Write your articles and posts as long as they need to be for the topic. If 200 words is enough, they’re enough. Don’t overdo it. If 2000 words is what it takes, write those 2000 words. You may be able to break up such a long article into shorter articles, but sometimes you’ll feel better leaving it as one big article. Just relax. I know some people swear by the benefits of longer articles, as this allows for the use of more related keywords.

I believe that your ability to keep people interested is far more important than whether or not you write a long article. If it’s information they want and it’s well written, people will read long posts, even online.

Rule 2: Use bullet points or lists.

Yes, this post is written as a sort of list, but it works well for this topic. It doesn’t always work that way.

I’ll admit to a fondness for lists because they allow me to give visual separation to subtopics within a post, which is supposed to make them more readable. That’s certainly a good thing. Just don’t drive yourself up the wall trying to find a way to make a post into a list or bullet points if it doesn’t work out that way.

Rule 3: Write short paragraphs.

This rule comes from the idea that shorter paragraphs are easier to read online. It’s probably true enough, but that doesn’t mean a short paragraph should be a firm rule.

Look instead at what is a logical length for the paragraph. Is it expressing your complete thought? You shouldn’t be chopping up a paragraph into two or three paragraphs just because you read that shorter paragraphs are better. You should be writing paragraphs that make sense as a whole.

Rule 4: Go for the controversy.

Some people are big on going for controversy as a way to bring traffic to their websites. It can work. Having an opinion online is a good thing. Just be sure you express it well.

You certainly don’t want to introduce a controversial topic and then not state your own opinion. Discussing and even sympathizing with both sides is good, but have an opinion of your own. You don’t have to agree with everyone. Just back up your opinion with facts or reasons why you believe it.

Having an opinion doesn’t mean you have to be offensive about it, although if that’s your persona, go for it and be ready for battle. Some people enjoy that, and others don’t. It’s not my style, but that just means I don’t go for the controversy very often.

Not every topic is really conducive to controversy. People get all heated up on various parenting topics, for example, and you can maybe even get some venom going on Mac vs. PC debate, but it’s going to be a bit more difficult if you’re writing about the best lawn mower for a small yard. If your topic doesn’t have a lot of controversy, you can look awfully silly trying to make some. Then again, if you thought your topic wasn’t controversial but it turns out to be, make the best of it.

Rule 5: Stick with what’s popular in your niche.

It’s kind of a funny thing. It’s often recommended that you pick a tight niche to cut down on the competition, but you’re also supposed to stick with what’s popular within your niche.

The problem with sticking with the popular topics is that you don’t stand out enough. Write about the popular stuff, absolutely, but make sure you delve into corners that others pay less attention to, especially the facets you prefer. Have content that stands out from what the rest are doing.

Remember that a big part of your success comes from your own interest in your niche. It shows when you’re truly interested in the information you’re sharing and it shows when you just put up something because you felt you had to.

Certainly the popular topics have a lot of benefits. They’re areas which can generate a lot of search engine traffic and blog comments. If you get into less popular topics or go into better detail than others do on the popular topics, you’re giving your readers something more to look forward to. That’s a very good thing, especially if you want people coming back to your site.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

August 15th, 2011

Have You Considered Buying Headway Theme For Your WordPress Blog?

The right theme for your WordPress blog does more than make it look good. It can make your blog still more search engine friendly. That’s why many people buy WordPress themes such as Headway. They make a lot of sense.

I’m not currently using Headway on this blog. Chalk it up to a lack of time or laziness, your pick. This blog will take more time to change over if I want it to continue to match the rest of the site. That said, I am using Headway theme on some of my other sites, and I really like it. I’ll make it work here eventually; all I need is some of that really scarce available time.

Flexibility

Headway is a very flexible theme. It comes pretty plain out of the box, but it doesn’t take long to improve on that, especially if you have your header graphic ready or will use a simple text header. The first thing Headway has you do when you go into the Visual Editor is the basic setup for your blog, such as placing the header, choosing initial colors (easily changed later), and deciding how many sidebars to have and where they will be placed.

You tell Headway where you want the sidebars used. If you don’t want a sidebar on pages, but you want them on posts, or you want different sidebars for those areas, you can arrange that. Widget compatible sidebars are available, and you can tell Headway when you want a sidebar to use the same widgets as another sidebar, making it easy to change them across the site.

The Visual Editor lets you see the changes as you go, and post them to your site when you’re ready. It’s much nicer than having to make a change in your site, then reload your blog to see the changes, hoping you haven’t made some simple mistake that completely ruins the layout until you find it.

Headway also has Leafs. These are a variety of ways to add content to your blog, once again, deciding where each goes. You can use a Leaf to add HTML or PHP to a page, add an image rotator and more.

Search Engine Optimization

WordPress sites in general are pretty search engine friendly, but Headway gives you more options. It has a panel to control various SEO options and every post allows you to write your own meta description or choose to noindex a page. There are checkboxes to have common areas marked “noindex.” It even cleans up your post slugs if you choose to have it do so.

Easy To Use

I found Headway confusing for a very short time, mostly due to the differences in how I’m used to editing themes, but I quickly got the hang of it. Most times you won’t be doing much at all with HTML or PHP, short of adding in analytics code or ad code. Mostly it will be drag and drop, choosing colors and considering your SEO options.

Is It Time to Buy Headway Theme?

If Headway is a theme you’ve been thinking about buying, now is absolutely the time to do so. They’re working on version 3.0, and when that is released, the pricing will go through a major change. You won’t be able to buy Headway with a one time payment anymore. They’re moving to a subscription model when they release the new version. Once that launch comes, current Headway owners will be grandfathered in, and still get their updates and support, but new owners will have to maintain a subscription. I don’t know what prices will be, but over time paying once makes far more sense.

Am I an affiliate? Of course. I use the product too.

Headway — The Drag & Drop Theme For WordPress

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

August 25th, 2010

When Is a Blog a Business?

There’s some discussion going on about Philadelphia requiring a blogger to get a business license, despite that she has earned only $50 over the past few years. It’s triggered a lot of discussion about when a blog is a business and when it’s not.

My opinion isn’t all that popular with some people. If you’re trying to earn money with your blog, you’re trying to run a business. Whether or not you’re making a profit has nothing to do with it. Brick and mortar businesses have to pay for a license no matter their profit, and they have larger expenses than most online businesses; there’s no reason to exempt online businesses that aren’t earning a profit.

That said, I think it would be more reasonable for cities to only require a license once you’re earning a certain amount per year. A business earning as little as Bess is earning off her blog could easily be called a hobby by the IRS.

It’s hard to earn money by running a blog. The people who earn big money off their blogs are the exception.

If you’re running ads on your blog, of course you’re trying to make it into a business. You’re trying to earn money after all. But just as most businesses fail in the first few years in the brick and mortar world, most blogs won’t earn significant money in their first years, quite likely ever.

Doesn’t mean you aren’t running a business, just that you aren’t succeeding at earning much money at it.

I don’t necessarily agree that a business license should be required when earnings are so low, but most places would call it one. I’d like to see some limitations on that, but it isn’t the case in every city. Some do limit when they tax businesses, but you may still need the license.

If you’re concerned about your personal blog being considered a business, don’t monetize it until you think it will make money. That means build your readership up first. Leave off the ads and other sources of income from a blog and no one will regard it as a business. Yet you can easily turn it into one when you believe your traffic justifies adding in ads.

Many communities have hefty fines for those who do not properly license their business. Home businesses of all sorts easily fall through the cracks, but strictly speaking home businesses in most areas are required to get a license. These rules are neither unreasonable nor new. It’s just that cities are noticing online businesses more.

Where Is Your Business Located?

Some people argue that their business isn’t really located at their home. They feel it’s more where their server is. They try to use that as a reason why they shouldn’t have to get a business license in their location.

I very much doubt that is the case. I also don’t think you would want it to be the case. You’d have to deal with licensing your business where your server is, which is not always possible to do online.

Your physical presence has much more to do with where your business is located.  You do the work of creating your blog where you are. Even if you blog a lot at the local coffee shop, you’ll want to call your home the location of your business.

When Is It a Hobby?

The IRS gives these criteria for considering whether you have a business or a hobby:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Do you depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

My own, unprofessional assessment would call Bess’ blog a hobby, if only because there’s no way she depends on the income from it. If she’s expecting to make a better profit in some years, my assessment could be wrong. I’m not her and I’m not a tax professional, so I can only take my best guess.

If she can convince the right folks in Philadelphia that it’s a hobby by IRS criteria, Bess has a good chance of not having to pay the license fee. Only trouble is that the ads show the blog is trying to earn money. All too easy to say that makes it a business.

On the plus side of calling it a business is that you can deduct expenses, which you generally can’t do for a hobby. Just be sure that you’re doing it well enough that the IRS doesn’t check things over in a few years and decide that it’s a hobby because it has never been profitable.

Where Would I Draw the Line?

If it were up to me, I would love to see business licenses required once a business is bringing in a certain amount per month. That would encourage people to start a business. They could even say it’s before deductions or expenses so that businesses can’t just claim they don’t have any income. Beneath that level, let the city consider it a hobby that earns money.

If the business involves health or safety, other licensing right from the start makes sense.

Requiring a business license right from the start is discouraging to new businesses. It’s an expense, and if you want to have a business you’re going to have expenses, but anything that makes it easier for businesses to start will encourage people to try starting one.

But even if you do have to pay for a business license and hosting in the early days of your blog or other online business, remember you have it easy. Brick and mortar businesses have to deal with far higher expenses to get started, and yet people start them all the time. Much as we might like special treatment, there’s nothing special about any sort of online business that deserves different treatment from the brick and mortar variety.

If you don’t have a business license or home occupation permit for your online business, check with your city to see if you need one. Most places they’re pretty reasonable. Rules vary from place to place, so I can’t give you any more specific help than that to see if you need one.

If you’re in doubt, ask for help from a professional. SCORE is a good general resource for business, and you can contact your city hall if you have questions about licensing requirements. You should be able to check their website and figure out if you’re likely to need anything for your online business.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

August 4th, 2010

What Matters More – A Great Article Title or Great Keywords in the Title?

When you’re writing for your site, whether it’s an article, blog post or article to be distributed, the title matters. It’s what readers see first and what interests them enough to give the rest of the article a chance, even when they don’t know if your site is a great one or auto generated dreck.

But without great keywords, in the title and the article itself, who’s going to find any of your articles?

Which Way to Go?

Article titles can get a bit of debate going. Some like to write them first. Others write them last. Some focus more on keywords, others on making it interesting.

I like to have a title ready, but changing it isn’t unheard of. I don’t think I’m one of the great title writers around, although I come up with a few I enjoy. A good title helps to set the tone of an article for me. I may change midway because the dratted thing no longer fits, but I like having a working title.

The important thing is to craft your titles in the way that plays to your own strengths. If you write best with a general idea, and then pull a title from that, go for it. If you need that title to guide your article writing, work that way.

There’s nothing wrong with either way. The only wrong way is the one that inhibits your ability to write in the first place.

What About Search Engines?

It’s certainly true that search engines care more about keywords than about an interesting title. Keywords are a part of what will bring search engine rankings on the keywords you’re after.

Keywords shouldn’t be your entire title in all cases, however. You should do your best to use your keywords, not only in the title of your article, but in the title attribute in the meta tags, and used appropriately throughout the article.

Your title will often be used by people linking to the page on your site. This helps your article position when your article is linked to with your keywords. Not everyone will use your title or keywords, but you want it easy for them to use your keywords when linking by using a good title.

What About People?

When people click on links to visit your pages, a good title draws them in. Humans do like keywords, so long as they’re used naturally and are relevant. If the title is clever or funny or otherwise interesting to a human reader, that helps to draw their attention.

A plain title can work, especially when people are looking for something specific. There’s rarely a need to get silly about that Canon PowerShot SD780IS 12.1 MP Digital Camera review page title. Relevance matters quite a bit when people are searching for something specific.

In the above example, you can still make the title interesting. It could imply problems with the camera. It could rave about the camera. When you’re being that specific however, the keywords in the title need that relevance to buyers, not people casually looking for information.

People looking more for information, on the other hand, will probably enjoy a title that stands out and promises a good read. A dry, keyword filled title shows that the article is probably about what they’re looking for, but doesn’t promise to be written in an interesting manner. Keywords used in an interesting way can be a big help in getting readers to your informational articles.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

July 19th, 2010

Here’s Why You Don’t Rely on Free Hosting

A lot of bloggers got a harsh lesson on not relying on free hosting this weekend. More than 73,000 blogs were shut down with no warning by law enforcement officials. It’s not clear what happened to cause them to shut down Blogtery, but it’s a good lesson on not trusting free hosting… or any hosting, really. You have to protect your business yourself.

If you want what details are available, try the discussion on WebHostingTalk, this story on CNet, and this one on Read Write Web.

What’s the Lesson?

The big lesson here is to always, always have backups of your site. Shut downs can happen for much less reason than law enforcement ordering them down. Free hosts can take your site down just because, if that’s what they want to do.

Sites get taken down from Blogger for spamming, DMCA violations and sometimes for reasons that are hard to understand. Sites get shut down on WordPress.com because the owner was caught using affiliate links, even when they almost never did it. These are things that can happen to you on any free host at any time.

But even with paid hosting you should be taking regular backups of your data. After all, the owners of Blogtery were paying for their hosting, then suddenly lost it, and they’re saying they don’t have it all backed up.

There’s a simple WordPress plugin that will do it for you on whatever schedule you set. You don’t have to do a thing, just tell it where to email the backup.

When your site disappears, for whatever the reason, and you don’t have backups, your work is gone. You can try to use Google’s cache to retrieve some of it, or Archive.org, but you can’t be certain of getting it all back.

Your backups are your one defense from complete disaster if something happens with your hosting.

Don’t Just Backup Your Site

So long as we’re on the subject, don’t just backup your site. Backup your computer, more than one way.

I keep an external hard drive on my desk that backs up my computer regularly. But in case of a natural disaster that really isn’t enough.

Look into offsite backup options. There are a lot out there. Find one that fits your budget. Some, such as SafeCopy Backup offer a limited amount of space for free. You can also use Amazon’s S3 service to backup your computer. MozyPro is another alternative for businesses.

Another option is to store a backup at a trusted friend or relative’s home, and update it periodically. This isn’t easy, but it’s a good option if you don’t want to trust an online company with your data.

However you do it, protect all of your data, both the online parts of your business and the data you keep at home. Minimizing the chances for trouble always makes sense.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.